The Importance of Nutrient Density in Helping Consumers Make Healthier Food Choices

Simon SumDCN, RDN, ACSM-CPT, FAND – Manager, Global Product Safety & Science, R&D

In the ever growing and evolving nutrition industry there is a question we permanently aim to answer: how can we make it easier for people to make good nutrition a part of their everyday life?

Part of the solution is providing customers with affordable, quick alternatives –such as Herbalife Nutrition’s Formula 1 Nutritional Shake Mix– that can replace a meal but still provide the nutrients needed. Another part has to do with increasingly educated consumers: people are progressively taking an interest in consuming healthy food and that has compelled the industry and government to make some changes.

For example, in 2016 the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revised its labeling regulations to provide updated nutrition information on the Daily Reference Values and Reference Daily Intake values. The main purpose of this change was to help consumers maintain healthy dietary practices.

Recently, I had the opportunity to present at the American Society for Nutrition Conference.  I shared a study developed by Herbalife Nutrition to examine the impact of FDA’s updated Nutrient Daily Values on the Nutrition Rich Food (NRF) Index.

The NRF is a validated, science-based, consumer-driven metric tool that measures the nutrient density of individual foods as well as meals. Nutrient density, a measure of how much nutrition you get per serving or per calorie eaten, is an important factor in a healthy diet. When choosing between two food items with the same calorie amount, one food choice can provide your body with the protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals we need every day, while another choice may provide empty calories from sugar and saturated fat with no other significant nutrients.

Our research determined that the changes to the Nutrient Daily Values have a significant impact on the NRF scores for many food items of the major USDA food groups, other than those in vegetables. Under this updated values, the NRF Index were found to be statistically lower for milk and milk products; meat, fish, poultry and mixtures, legumes, nuts and seeds, grain products, fruits, and sugar, sweets and beverages; and resulted in a significant increase in calculated NRF Index relative to those using old daily values in the food items in the groups of eggs and fat, oils and salad dressings.

This study is a further validation of the importance of nutrient density in maximizing nutrition, while limiting excessive calories. Understanding the nutritional information available on food labels can empower people to make smarter eating decisions, choosing from a variety of foods and beverages that are higher in nutrient density throughout the day. Healthy eating can be achieved by making informed decisions that can only come through education.